In March 2021, eastern Australia experienced devastating flooding as a result of La Niña weather pattern, which brought greater rain and tropical cyclones during the summer (in the southern hemisphere). Up to 35 inches of rain fell in just four days, and some places saw their worst flooding in 60 years. It also resulted in significant discharge from Sydney’s largest dam (Warragamba Dam) – 500 gigalitres of water, which is equivalent to the volume of Sydney Harbor.
This event necessitated a review of Australia’s capacity to manage and maintain resilient water supply systems. In New South Wales, four agencies manage the operations of the river system and other water delivery systems in eastern Australia. The state’s rivers and water supply systems are managed in accordance with the rules set out by NSW Department of Industry. These rules require the utilities to provide authorities with information to keep them updated about the current problems and also provide alternate mitigation measures to help prepare them for the future ones.
Most utilities in the world currently use telemetry and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, often referred to as “operational technology,” to monitor and control network operations. It is imperative to understand the impact of seasonal flooding on utility operations; it is also an opportunity to examine the future of water data management using advanced technologies like Internet of things (IOT) and their role in preparing for future unanticipated water related events.
The Benefits of Operational Technology
Traditional approaches to operational technology (OT) in utilities industry typically strive to create an environment that detects change through direct monitoring of industrial equipment, assets, processes, and events and to effect changes in operations. But new advances in technology are leading to new benefits.
Remote sensor data provides authorities with detailed, reliable, real-time information about damaged locations or faulty equipment so that they can take action and undertake damage mitigation measures. Obviously, this is especially important in emergencies when time, safety, and human life are at a critical juncture. Flood water diversion, evacuation, rescue, resettlement, water pollution and related health hazards, and service interruptions are time-critical.
Sensors can provide useful, actionable information to help with these use cases:
A sensor-based approach is ambitious. A good, modern water data management system will have thousands, and possibly millions, of sensors and data loggers (see section below on Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT). This demands an equally robust data platform for turning those data into insights and the basis for action.
Data is the Foundation
Modern technology – in other words digital transformation – is a central component of the new approach to operational technology for efficient data gathering, storing, and making those gathered data useful. To solve current and future problems in water supply infrastructure, systems must be completely capable of transferring water data to surveillance teams, including operations, maintenance, and disaster management. This will help them in effective monitoring and then responding to any unnatural water level occurrences, etc. at any point of time.
Many built-in features of existing water data management systems – including device management, data acquisition, data visualization, alarm and event management, and platform security – facilitate remote monitoring. Yet these characteristics do not convert into robust, effective solutions. Antiquated and inefficient traditional approaches can result in outdated, inaccurate, and incomplete data and asset measurements.
Let’s throw some light on the differences between application of traditional OT applications and modern IOT-based solutions.
The ability to scale installation of IoT-enabled, low-cost data loggers on a cloud platform will unlock opportunities to utilize big data. Utilities must consider how to grow to thousands, if not millions, of sensors and data loggers. The infrastructure upgrade or the digital transformation of data, if done right, can unleash new insights and achieve unparalleled levels of efficiency in the water data management industry, which will eventually put it in the bracket of Industry 4.0.
Not Just IoT: IIoT
The rise of Industrial IoT (IIoT) in the recent years is slowly, but surely, changing the landscape of the utility industry. Industrial IoT devices make use of innovations like smart sensors, which help to minimize common errors and aid in faster computation, and smart meters, which ensure accurate, digital records of consumption for billing consumers. These IIoT devices bring tremendous benefits to utilities and their consumers, paving the way for the industry’s digital transformation journey.
Real-time data availability and ease of access to big data is one of the key components which can revolutionize the water data management industry. Utilities, like other industries, can explore the potential use of big data in forecasting events such as floods or in detecting irregularities in water consumption patterns. Furthermore, IOT enables smart incident identification, effective demand forecasting and planning, preventive maintenance, improving water monitoring, and providing flexible access to consumers on their water consumption.
IIoT devices are also typically energy efficient, easy to deploy with minimal manual configuration, and available at low prices. They represent a great potential investment for utilities in terms of upfront capital expense and ongoing operational costs. IIoT devices are an indispensable part towards the process of Industry 4.0 transformation.
The Future of Water Data
Utilities can improve real-time big data analysis by using IIoT devices and IIoT-enabled infrastructure to monitor events and take specific actions based on the data produced by using predetermined policies. This is critical for remote infrastructure and equipment as it will enable preventive maintenance through which issues can be identified and addressed promptly before they become significant problems. The devices also enable the gathering of detailed information to upgrade and expand the infrastructure to other locations.
But this data-rich approach can do even more for utilities:
The huge benefits which IIoT application can offer to the water industry are the reasons why water utilities are considering the adoption of this Industry 4.0 technology. Embracing this digital innovation early can transform the business to become more future ready and become more efficient to meet the needs of today.
Urvashi Gupta is a Control & Instrumentation engineer with 11+ years of experience in the utility industry. As a Principal Consultant with Wipro’s domain and consulting practice, her expertise lies in network solution deployment for advanced network management, digital transformation, and system integration programs. She has a keen interest in innovating OT solution implementation to adapt to the advent of new technologies, business process automation, cloud migration and industry 4.0 strategies.
Dennis Tanzania is Lead Consultant in Wipro's Domain and Consulting practice, focusing on utilities industries. His main interest is on SCADA and telemetry system digital transformation, strategizing innovative solution for customers to achieve operational efficiency, data integrity, effective business and operational processes.